There is always wisdom to be found in turbulent times. Too often, a fair amount of time must pass for that wisdom to crystallize. The organizational change work I’ve done in organizations over the past 20 years combined with several personal challenges and my propensity to read and study human behavior during change has given me the opportunity to distill truths that guide me when navigating turbulent times. Today I share the wisdom I’ve gleaned about turbulent times with you, distilled into 12 tips.
1. The faster things change, the more disoriented we find ourselves.
The reality is that things are never ever still. We and the world are changing every second of every day. Those small, incremental changes can add up to big changes over time, even though they occur so slowly that we can make the micro adaptations without notice. With sudden shifts, we lose our sense of equilibrium and can experience many of the symptoms of physical shock: irritability, confusion, and anxiety. The more accelerated the changes around us, the more important it is to understand ourselves, the transition process and to find strategies to find our footing in rapid change.
2. There is no “normal” to get back to.
Just like Dorothy longing to get back to Kansas, notice how often there is a longing to get back to the way things were. Yet as much as we long to “get back to normal”, once there has been a disruption, things are never the same. We may go back to our “old ways”, but we will do so as a different person in a different situation. A far better thing is to ask ourselves: What specifically is it from our past that we want to ensure is not lost as we move into the future?”
3. Our past ways exert a powerful pull – not because it was better, but because things were more knowable.
Longing to go back to the way things “were” is a very common reaction. Most often it is less about the perfection of the past (which is an exaggerated and wistful view) than it is a longing to be in a situation that is known and therefore manageable. The devil we know, even if it is less than ideal, seems better than the devil we don’t. When you begin longing for the past, pause and ask why. If it is because you knew how to deal with it, ask instead this question: “What do I bring from the past that can help me deal with this uncertain future?”
4. Turbulence throws us into a range of varied and strong emotions.
The emotions we and others experience can be strong, varied and quite fluid. We can be excited and optimistic one moment, then fearful and depressed the next. Emotions can include hope, fear, anxiety, grief, anticipation, joy, and a long list of others. Times of intense change are indeed an emotional roller coaster – and it is best to think of them in that way. Just know that the fear in this moment will give way to exhilaration in a short time which will give way to sadness, which in turn gives way to the next emotional wave. Knowing all these emotions are normal helps. As does the notion that these emotions will give way to others – just observe them and let them pass.
5. Acknowledging the pain helps.
Change and transitions are hard, even those changes that we willingly self-initiate. Being willing to note and honor the work or effort or pain that we are experiencing enables us to normalize and then deal with the hardships that we are facing. Observe the leaders who speak candidly, clearly and from the heart and you’ll see that they are far more effective than those who hide or sugar coat the situation. Leaders who acknowledge the difficulty being faced are credible, and therefore trusted. Doing so requires showing up with humility, compassion, vulnerability, and courage.
6. Accepting something is not the same as liking it.
There is a grace and strength that comes will accepting things just as they are. Even if we wish for something different. Even if we immensely dislike the place we find ourselves. Even if the place we find ourselves challenges us to our bones. The act of acceptance allows us to deal with what is. It allows us to move forward and deal with the hand that was dealt us. It takes all that energy we had spent denying, blaming or wallowing in self-pity and transforms it int forward action.
7. Suffering is an invitation to growth, but not a guarantee.
Often with hindsight, we can find the good that has come from a very tough time. The illness passes and we learn to honor our health in ways we had not in the past. We flail at the loss of a job only to discover a new career path that is perfect for us. A relationship falls apart and through discernment we uncover what our contribution was to the situation, enabling a deeper understanding that serves us well in future relationships. Turbulent times bring challenges that can be great opportunities for personal growth. By asking yourself what this situation has to teach you can yield deep insights that serve you (and others) well. Note: thanks to Chip Neidigh of Kairos Consulting for this great quote/observation.
8. Experiencing the dark can lead us to the light.
Turbulent times indeed can be dark. And in that darkness, we can find our true selves. Think about those who have emerged from darkness with a strength and sense of purpose that enables them to contribute in ways they could not have imagined. Think about how these same folks inspire you and others. In the darkness, we are called to find our lights.
This quote from Doe Zantamata says it far more eloquently than I can:
It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the radiant light within ourselves that can never, ever be dimmed.
9. If we can stomach the transitional time, there is magic in the middle.
William Bridges’ work charts the journey between letting go of the past and accepting the new. It is in that transitional period between the “old” and the “new” that the magic happens. Once the “old” is disrupted we are presented with an opportunity to recreate the new. If we have the courage and the will to live consciously in this “betwixt and between” space, we can use the transition creatively, building a better future. This space challenges us – as we are torn between retreating or recreating the past or hurrying the creative nature of this “in between” space to get to a new sense of “normal”. To tap into the magic of the middle, we need to get our sea legs, become comfortable with uncertainty and be unwavering about asking what it is that we want to create in our futures.
10. We’ve never been in control, but in times of transition we are reminded of that all too frequently.
In turbulent times we lose our sense of control. The hard reality is that we’ve never truly been in control, we just have an illusion of control. Letting go of this fiction of control, we can move into being in the present, accepting what is, and then choosing our response to our current situation. Once we move past trying to plan, control and manage all this, we find ourselves in the moment, being present and consequently in flow.
11. This too shall pass.
As all things do. Good times pass. Bad times pass. Knowing this does two things. First, it reminds us that the painful times will diminish. That thought alone can help us endure hardship and pain. More importantly, it reminds us to savor the good times, as they too are transitory and fleeting. Being aware that the “good times” will also pass enables us to enjoy and treasure them, rather than take them for granted.
12. Turbulent times are great times to develop a practice of gratitude.
A practice of gratitude is important any time, but essential in turbulent or troubled times. Gratitude helps us see a more balanced view, helps us connect to what is good and whole in our lives, even when many things are less than we would hope. Gratitude pulls us up to our higher levels of being and thinking, which are great places to be when we need to be at our best.